By Ian Ferguson
With a dramatic victory at last season’s state tournament fresh in their memory, the Blaine wrestling team is off to a good start this year. The team has had a large turnout of athletes and given two championship performances already at a preseason tournament in Everett.
Sophomores Dereck Camba and Riley Fritsch both wrestled to titles in the Mariner Holiday Tournament on December 6. Camba won the 126-pound championship match in a 13–2 decision and Fritsch won the 145-pound championship match 10–1.
With all wrestlers on the JV, varsity and girls wrestling teams in attendance, the tournament was a positive start to the season, said head coach Craig Foster.
“It was a good, low-key tournament to get our feet wet and see what we need to work on,” Foster said. “We had several wrestlers do well, and Camba and Fritsch especially dominated their matches.”
Olivia Adams, who took home the third-place medal from the state tournament, returns as a senior and the sole wrestler on the girls team. At the Mariner tournament, she wrestled against JV boys and won two of her three matches. Junior Caleb Frey wrestled to the 145-pound finals, but lost in the championship round. Seniors Gage Lott and Billy Dodd placed third at 132 and 138 pounds respectively.
Including Adams, an impressive eight wrestlers are returning after having competed in the state tournament last year. Caleb Frey placed fourth, Anthony Frey placed fifth, Fritsch placed sixth and Dodd, Lott, Colton Economy and Stuey Rasar all competed but didn’t medal. Their efforts combined with those of graduated seniors to bring home the state title.
Seniors Mike Antczak and Jon Stewart led the team at the tournament, both making it to the final round in a tight battle for points with Forks High School. In the end, Blaine came out on top 110.5 to 109 after Antczak won the heavyweight championship in a 5–1 decision, the dramatic final match of the tournament.
Coming off of a championship season, the Borderites have high hopes again this year. This year’s team has 36 wrestlers, but even with that big turnout, filling out the weight classes will be the team’s biggest challenge.
“We have more kids than we’ve had in many years, but we don’t spread out well. Ironically, I’ve had teams in the past with only 20 wrestlers that covered every weight, but sometimes it just works out that your best wrestlers are in the same weight class,” Foster said.
Luckily, the Borderites have always taken the long view on the wrestling season.
“Our focus has always been on the state tournament, and we have a good core of state-level wrestlers. So there might be times during the regular season when we don’t look so good, but we have to just not panic and focus on the end goal,” Foster said.
Another positive sign for the future of Blaine wrestling came out of the Mariner tournament: five of Blaine’s JV wrestlers were champions, and six were runners-ups.
“That’s really encouraging,” Foster said. “I think there’s a ton of upside to this group. We have plenty of raw talent in the younger guys. Can some of them get tough enough to compete in the postseason? We hope so.”
Dodd, Lott, Fritsch and Caleb Frey are team captains this year.
The Borderites traveled to Mount Baker for a dual match on December 10, and will host the annual Battle at the Border tournament this weekend.
The Battle at the Border is a two-day tournament in the Blaine High School gymnasium beginning Friday, December 12 and ending Saturday, December 13. Twenty-one schools from across the state will battle to the top of 32-man brackets, wrestling for fun and glory in non-conference matchups.
With a great reputation in the Washington wrestling scene, the annual tournament attracts top-quality wrestling teams from across the state. But the biggest fans, of course, are right here in Blaine.
“Our kids and our fans love it because it’s a big shindig on campus. Blaine wrestlers grew up watching it, and for some it’s a big goal to win at the Battle at the Border,” Foster said. “It’s a lot of work, and fortunately we have a lot of great people willing to help pull it all together. They’ve done a great job of making it happen every year.”
The Battle at the Border begins at 1 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for kids.